New research confirms it again: “Animal source foods, if properly produced, are fundamental for our well-being; excluding them would be disastrous”

What is the future of animal husbandry? A team of researchers coordinated by Professor Frédéric Leroy of the University of Brussels was looking for an answer, between abstract lines of thought and our historical and biosocial desire for meat. There is currently a clash between people who want to abolish livestock and who defend it as a key element of healthy and sustainable societies.

Animal source foods always had a key position in the human diet, but new ideas about food spreading today are creating a profound social transformation. Professor Frédéric Leroy of the Faculty of Sciences and Bio-Engineering of the University of Brussels with Adele H. Hite and Pablo Gregorini in a very interesting and in-depth study (“Livestock in Evolving Foodscapes and Thoughtscapes“) analyses how the conflict between a biosocial desire for meat and modern lines of thought portraying livestock farming as harmful to humans, to the well-being of animals and to the planet will be resolved.

Answers are finally given to some current questions, offering various future scenarios: is it still right to kill animals to eat meat? Is it true that for our own sake and for the sake of the planet we should all become vegan? What is the future of animal husbandry? According to experts, there is no doubt: since human exists on Earth, meat has always been necessary for his survival and evolution. Without meat, we would surely be extinct. However, the relationship with livestock has undergone a profound transformation over time. Since human was organized into hunter-gatherer communities, meat has been the prevailing form of sustenance, with killing as the focal point, followed by a transition to agriculture, domestication, and animal husbandry.

According to the researchers, there is no doubt: since mankind has been on Earth, #meat has always been necessary for its #survival and #evolution. Click To Tweet

The nineteenth century, characterized by urbanization and industrialization, especially of Western and Anglo-Saxon societies, led to the development of a modern agri-food system which resulted in a progressive increase in the supply of meat. This improved the well-being and defeated malnutrition of the common people who had little access to animal source foods and meat, considered a great value product reserved for the “elite”.

Today various global threats are emerging, such as the public health crisis, climate change, pandemics, and the impact that animal production has on the environment, human health, and animal welfare. The way of eating is increasingly oriented towards a return to “natural”, organic and additive-free food. Much of this position derives from the anxiety of the middle classes to feel “virtuous”. Leroy also talks about a new “sensitivity” in the younger generations unused by culture to the killing of animals, today excessively anthropomorphized, with the fantasy taking the place of reality: from here comes the strong discomfort today, which it even makes people feeling disgusted towards meat, seen as “pieces of a corpse”.

The current levels of #veganism are still low (1-4%), but the involvement and influence of the #PoliticalLeaders have become essential to reach a wider mass of people averse to #meat. Click To Tweet

The problem became more serious in the last decade due to animal rights campaigns, on social media and documentaries or Netflix films, often supported by celebrities as testimonials. These movements aim at the total elimination of hunting and animal husbandry, leading to “institutionalized” veganism and to the end of “speciesism”, aiming at the younger generations for a social changing. Current levels of veganism are still low (1-4%), but the involvement and influence of political leaders have been essential to reach a wider mass of “averse to meat” people: for example the semi-vegetarian planetary diet designed by the EAT-Lancet Commission and strongly criticized by nutritionists for the risk of deficiencies, or the unfair (and senseless) meat-tax or the abolition of meat from school canteens and menus.

In the study, two extreme scenarios were described: the first one is a vegan social model that calls for the total abolition of livestock farming, with the need to reconnect with nature and feel part of it. The second scenario, on the other hand, involves a profound rethinking of the way animals are reared, with a more “holistic” approach that involves agroecological systems and more harmonious relationships between humans, animals, and the environment.

If the vegan scenario were to be realized, according to the authors, there would be vast and disastrous implications on social organization: rather than leading to a healthy lifestyle, there are the risks of being monopolized by interests of multinationals, as already happens with anti-meat companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, leading to an artificial, highly industrialized diet made of hyper-processed “fake” products.

If the #vegan scenario were to be realized, it would have disastrous #social implications: more than a #healthy #lifestyle, it risks its #monopoly by the #interests of some #corporations. Click To Tweet

The ambitious society “veganization” will lead to a food scenario dominated by high-tech industrialized nutritionism, while more independent and healthy vegan approaches will have little chance of success in the absence of financial, political, and logistical support, with serious difficulties in feeding all over the world population and probably not even supported by the public.

A big food transformation with restrictive interventions will lead to harmful effects on human health, and to a repression of food freedom and cultural expression. The radical removal of livestock from food systems will compromise and weaken livelihoods and social development, without reducing animal suffering, nor offering food security, or significant environmental benefits.

Future nutritional challenges relate to the provision of high-quality protein (biological value) and a list of micronutrients and other compounds (e.g. DHA, choline, and taurine) that are only in meat and animal source products or are obtained more easily from them because present in higher levels or with better bioavailability. The vegan diet is less strong and with the need for fortifications, supplements, and medical supervision, strongly based on ultra-processed unhealthy products, made of low-quality raw materials, such as starches, oil, and soy protein isolates.

The #vegan #diet requires fortifications, #integrations, and #MedicalAid, strongly based on #unhealthy products and #HyperProcessed #food. Click To Tweet

Also regarding the environmental impact of livestock farming, researchers explain that, although it is real and problematic in some cases, it can still be largely mitigated: recognizing the fundamental role of well-managed grazing in ecosystem services, rural development, and health, helping to preserve high-value habitat and biodiversity, to improve soil, vegetation growth and water retention, nutrient recycling, carbon sequestration, and animal welfare. On the other hand, more intensive farming, if well managed, has an important role to play, where it is able to improve yields.

According to the authors, the potential for improvement with farm animals is very high, with active strategies such as regenerative agriculture, well-managed grazing, food waste recovering, better recycling, and integration of waste in the circular bioeconomy, improvement of veterinary and animal health assistance. It is unreasonable to think that animal husbandry is not able to offer a decorous life to animals or that farming is unnatural and against animals’ well-being: just compare the life of well-protected animals in farms with the ferocious conditions they find living free in nature. In farms, animals receive veterinary care, food during the winter, and quick and painless death.

Well managed #IntensiveFarming has an important role to play in the #ClimateCrisis when it is able to improve #yields. Click To Tweet

It is not clear in which direction current livestock production will evolve, but the authors are resolute: it is unlikely that one of these two opposite scenarios will happen. The most probable future sees a mosaic of more common practices, ranging between “plant” options and animal husbandry as part of the solution and not at the heart of the problem, based on strong agro-ecological principles. Rather than talking about the total abolition of farming or drastic reductions in meat from our diet, the wisest way forward is to always do “more of the better”.

Rather than definitively abandoning animal husbandry, more respectful and harmonious interaction with animals could be more effective in satisfying the various needs of globalized humanity. The most promising way to progress, the authors conclude, consists of a combination of all the best obtained so far, from the most modern forms of farming and well-managed grazing systems, with greater attention to bio-circular practice, and a much more attentive approach to human-animal-earth interactions.

Rather than abandoning #zootechnics, more respectful and harmonious #interaction with #animals would be more effective for the needs of #globalized humanity. #OneHealth4All Click To Tweet

The problems of the environment, soil, diet, health, and livestock must be positively addressed with the intention of enhancing, expanding, and innovating. Such an approach should be open and creative, where humans and animals must all work together for nature rather than against it. “Blaming cattle is easy and “trendy” when you have a utopian world view and don’t think about the reality of things”, Professor Leroy points out: “Such views on the food chain are generally symptomatic of the Zeitgeist and the way society is currently looking for new avenues to move forward. But be careful not to make mistakes: the abolition rather than the optimization of animal husbandry would lead us to a much worse situation.”

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.